Muddy bikes could be giv­ing ex­tra spin to larch dis­ease

The Courier & Advertiser (Angus and The Mearns Edition) - - OUTDOORS -

Wash­ing down your moun­tain bike af­ter a par­tic­u­larly muddy ride makes good sense – it keeps the parts run­ning smoothly and en­sures that your prized steed will be rid­ing trails for many years to come.

There is also an­other rea­son, namely Phy­toph­thora ramo­rum – a fun­gus-like pathogen, also known as water mould and which leads to larch tree dis­ease.

Un­for­tu­nately, larch tree dis­ease is spread­ing through the UK and, once in­fected, the only con­trol avail­able is felling the in­fected trees. The dis­ease is a world­wide is­sue, but in Europe so far only the UK, Ire­land and the Nether­lands have re­ported it in trees.

In Scot­land, the out­breaks have been wide­spread with con­cen­trated dev­as­ta­tion around the south-west around Dum­fries and Gal­loway. How­ever, re­cent out­breaks have been spread­ing and Tay­side, and in par­tic­u­lar High­land Perthshire, have seen many cases in the last 12 months.

The first find­ing in the UK was in a gar­den cen­tre in Sus­sex in 2002 on a vibur­num plant and since then has been found to af­fect larch, beech and sweet chest­nut trees.

It is not known where and when the pathogen first en­tered the UK, but it seems that the in­va­sive and wide­spread rhodo­den­dron, which pro­duces large numbers of spores, is a cul­prit in ac­cel­er­at­ing the spread.

How­ever, spores can travel over sev­eral miles in air-cur­rents and wa­ter­courses.

It can also be spread on footwear, dogs’ (and wild an­i­mals’) paws and ve­hi­cles, in­clud­ing bi­cy­cle wheels. Cur­rently, there is no ef­fec­tive treat­ment to kill the pathogen and the only method of con­trol so far is pre­vent­ing fur­ther spread by felling any area of trees found to be in­fected.

So as cy­clists, how can we do our bit to pre­vent fur­ther spread of the dis­ease? Tree needles and soil are the main risks for car­ry­ing the pathogen, es­pe­cially when wet so, quite sim­ply, the an­swer is to wash off any plant de­bris and mud from our bike, shoes and kit be­fore leav­ing trail cen­tres and forests and avoid tak­ing a muddy bike be­tween des­ti­na­tions. Many trail cen­tres have bike-wash­ing fa­cil­i­ties on-site and if the places you ride don’t you could al­ways in­vest in a small por­ta­ble bike-washer.

It is also worth check­ing your cloth­ing, in­clud­ing hoods, hel­mets and back-packs, for pine-needles and other de­bris. As we also spend a lot of time in forests we should also keep a look­out for the symp­toms of larch dis­ease and re­port them – the Forestry Com­mis­sion has a For­est Re­search Tree Alert re­port you can com­plete. The symp­toms to look out for on trees in­clude le­sions, which ex­ude fluid from in­fected bark that dries as a black crust. The fu­ture prospect for our forests de­pends on how well it is cur­rently con­tained and whether the pathogen starts to in­fect other species of tree and plant. Scot­land has huge forests upon which much of our econ­omy de­pends and that we have un­lim­ited ac­cess to – thanks to our un­par­al­leled out­door ac­cess laws.

With that ac­cess come cer­tain re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and, as reg­u­lar users of our fan­tas­tic coun­try­side, it seems only rea­son­able that we take pre­cau­tions to en­sure that our ac­cess isn’t di­min­ished in the fu­ture and we still have forests to ride through for many years to come.

Where to ride: Aber­foyle Bike Park – to find the Bike Park, head down Na­tional Cy­cle Route 7 from the Wool Cen­tre. In Aber­foyle and it’s about 200 me­tres along on the right or if you’re com­ing from Gart­more along NCR 7 it’s on your left about half a mile af­ter the Rob Roy Ho­tel.

De­tails: Aber­foyle bike park is rel­a­tively small com­pared to some of the other trail cen­tres we have in Scot­land, but it packs a lot into its short course. There are rock gar­dens, skin­nies, drops, jumps and berms, all of which are ideal for hon­ing your skills for the big­ger trails. There are many other trails to ex­plore in and around Aber­foyle.

Check out Biket­rossachs.org.uk for more de­tails.

Clean down your bike to avoid mould that spreads larch tree dis­ease.

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